Michelle Im, Ridgewood, New York

Ceramics Monthly: How do you come up with the forms or surfaces that are prevalent in your work?

Michelle Im: I usually start by sketching out patterns and forms on paper. When I get to the actual handbuilding stage, as I build, I think about how the patterns will be placed, and which techniques I want to use to create the surfaces of a particular body of work. I use slabs to create smooth surfaces where I can make marks and build layers in the greenware or bisque stage, creating more tactility. Whether it’s sgraffito, resist, or using Mason stains, I’m typically experimenting with various methods and materials. The story-telling tradition of Italian maiolica has influenced me quite a lot, and while I admire its harmonious surface decoration and form, in my practice I’m thinking about pairing elements that do not normally go together, weaving them into patterns, altering traditional ideas and themes. I also think about how I can animate the form itself by adding sculptural elements that tie in with the pattern. Whether it is pigeons paired with bananas or poodles with beach balls, I try to approach all of this in a humorous, even childlike way. In the end, the goal is to create objects that bring joy and lightheartedness to everyday life.

1 Poodle Butter Dish, 7 in. (18 cm) in length, handbuilt earthenware, fired to cone 04, 2020.

CM: What is the most valuable advice you’ve received as an artist?

MI: This may sound weird, but my art professor in college once told me that if there’s anything I was even remotely interested in, other than art, to at least try it out and to maybe pursue that as a career path. It wasn’t a knock on my capabilities or anything, he was just disenchanted with the art world. I think he was trying to communicate to me that there’s a world outside of art to explore and that it takes time to arrive at what you want. I ended up majoring in biology with an art minor, and I enjoyed the balance in my studies. I taught in public schools and then worked in the restaurant industry for a while because I love food. I got into ceramics about nine years ago, but it’s only in the last couple of years that I have been working solely as an artist. I think about his advice a lot still. Having lived a different life gives me a different appreciation for art making. I sometimes wonder what kind of art I would be making if I had stayed in art school, but when I reflect on my work from the last few years, I see results that can only have been achieved through my journey.

2 Tiger Mug, 4¼ in. (11 cm) in height, handbuilt earthenware, fired to cone 04, 2021.

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